Status: 22/09/2023, 04:57 a.m.
By: Johannes Welte
The glacier of Sölden is a major construction site. © Greenpeace - Mitja Kobal
The Sölden Glacier will be rebuilt for the FIS ski race in October. Conservationists speak of a "catastrophe" for the environment.
Sölden/Mittelberg – It's hard to believe: While bathers are doing their rounds in the warm bathing lakes of the Alps after the foehn days of the past few days, there is a lot of construction activity on the Austrian glaciers. The opening of the ski season is imminent in Tyrol. However, keeping the glaciers, which are melting faster and faster, in good shape for skiing requires ever greater effort and violent interventions in nature. To the horror of conservationists.
In Sölden, the glacier has retreated – now it is being dredged and blasted
In Sölden, for example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to prepare the Rettenbachferner for skiing. The glacier tongue has retreated further again. That's why excavators have been moving in since April to clear away rocks and ice for the FIS Ski World Cup at the end of October so that the slope can be made passable.
Apparently, explosions also took place. Ursula Bittner, spokeswoman for Greenpeace Austria, is appalled: "In order to straighten the road for the Ski World Cup and maintain its width, it has obviously been decided to completely remove the affected part of the glacier and refill it with debris and artificial snow. The current destruction of nature on the Rettenbach glacier is a catastrophe."
Bittner continues: "In times of climate crisis, which is driving glacier melting, it is madness to do something like this." The dredging and blasting are interfering with the ecosystem and endangering biodiversity. "We're losing the glacier, you can't restore it."
Lift operator speaks of normal renovation work
Jakob Falkner of the Söldener Bergbahnen assures the APA news agency that this is normal renovation work due to the retreat of the glacier. This work would only affect the existing runway area.
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Greenpeace would act populistically and maliciously abuse the facts, according to Falkner: "We are not the cause of this situation. We are small players. Nature does what it wants with us." The nature conservation permit for the implementation of various restoration measures, including in the melting areas within the glacier area, has been obtained, the state of Tyrol announced.
In the Pitztal, the ski season starts next Saturday (23 September)
At an altitude of over 3000 metres, there is also hectic activity at the Wildspitze in neighbouring Pitztal: the rest of the previous season's snow, which had been pushed together into depots in spring, is hidden under white plastic tarpaulins. Now the white gold of the Pitztaler is again spread out and rolled on the slopes with snow groomers. Snow farming is the name of the method.
On the Pitztal Glacier, the slopes are already being prepared. © Webcam pitztaler-gletscher.at
On Saturday, skiing starts at seven o'clock in Austria's highest ski area, where you can ski down from 3440 meters to 2840 meters for the time being. From the mountain station of the Wildspitzbahn, you can then ski down to the mountain station of the Glacier Express on two two-kilometre-long slopes.
The lift operation will be suspended at 13 p.m. due to the heat
For the time being, the end of the day is already at 13 p.m. every day. "In the afternoon, the snow gets too slushy in the sun," reports Bernhard Füruter from the Pitztaler Gletscherbahn. The decision to prepare the runway was made at short notice, Füruter reports. "We start at the top in September and then gradually work our way down into the valley."
Who is already going skiing in the Pitztal this weekend? "It's mainly team training sessions that take place there," says Füruter. However, grooming the slopes is becoming more difficult from year to year. In the past, you could even ski all summer long in the Pitztal. Füruter: "That hasn't been possible for 30 years."
In Hintertux there was no summer ski break at all
The other glacier ski areas in Austria are also in the starting blocks: in Kaunertal and Ötztal it starts a week later, in the Stubai Valley on 6 October and on the Kitzsteinhorn on 14 October. On the Hintertux Glacier, there was no ski break at all in summer, they say.